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October 02, 1998

"State-based organizations have considerable advantages over the federal government in assisting in the commercial development of new technologies including their proximity to the firms that will actually employ new technologies, their close relationships with local university systems, and their ability to focus their efforts," says an extensive policy study recently completed by the U.S. House Science Committee.

"Unlocking Our Future: Toward A New National Science Policy," which was released last week, is the culmination of a year and a half of work undertaken by a special Congressional Committee created to develop a long-range science and technology policy for the nation. Chaired by Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), the report states that the need to maintain economic strength, which has been driven by continued technological innovation, has taken on primary importance. "The United States of America must maintain and improve its pre-eminent position in science and technology in order to advance human understanding of the universe and all it contains, and to improve the lives, health, and freedom of all peoples."

In bringing the benefits of research to the American people, the Committee found that it is important that the different core competencies of states and the federal government are recognized and that each is encouraged to focus on what it does best. The federal government has an irreplaceable role in funding basic research. States, on the other hand, are far better suited to stimulating economic development through technology-based industry within their borders.

The study also recognizes that as recently as 1995, two-thirds of federal R&D funding went to ten states. The Committee believes that all regions should be able to share in the benefits of economic prosperity that flow from the fundamental research performed in universities. The report recommends that major research universities should cultivate working relationships with less well-established research universities and technical colleges in research areas where there is mutual interest and expertise andconsider submitting, where appropriate, joint grant proposals. Less research-intensive colleges and universities should consider developing scientific or technological expertise in niche areas that complement local expertise and contribute to local economic development strategies.

The report lays out a series of recommendations for improving the national science and technology environment. Overall, there is no "sweeping plan," but instead there are numerous actions and multiple steps the nation’s scientific enterprise can take.

There are three basic components outlined in the study that the Committee feels are required to ensure success into the 21st century. They are:

*Ensure the flow of new ideas by enabling scientists to pursue fundamental, ground breaking research;

*Apply discoveries to the development of new products or processes; and,

*Improve the educational system to produce a diverse array of people that have mastery of fundamental scientific and mathematical concepts.

The report lists over 40 specific recommendations that expand upon the three areas cited above, including the following:

*Congress should make stable and substantial federal funding for fundamental scientific research a high priority;

*The federal government may consider supplemental funding for private-sector research projects when the research is in the national interest;

*Private sector capitalization of new technology-based companies should be encouraged through tax and regulatory policies. ; and,

*Partnerships that tie together the efforts of state governments, industries, and academia show great promise in stimulating research and economic development.

As the principal beneficiaries, states should be encouraged to play a greater role in promoting the development of high-tech industries, both through their support of colleges and research universities and through interactions with the private sector.

The report concludes that "for the United States of America, continued leadership in science and technology will enable us to pursue the discovery and innovation that leads to better lives, improved health, and greater freedom for all peoples, as the advances generated and stimulated by sciencedo not remain bound by geographic borders. A vigorous and sustainable American science and technology enterprise may be our most important legacy to future generations."

"Unlocking Our Future: Toward A New National Science Policy" may be viewed on the Internet at http://www.house.gov/science/science_policy_report.htm. The Committee is inviting public comment on the report.